Ethiopian Harars Go Chocolate
Weather patterns and climate changes might play a large role in the cup profiles of coffees from the Harar region for the past 2 years.
Sometime back, we chanced on a wonderful Harar that was very light-bodied with incredible flowery-jasmine aromatics. It was tea like, but not a wimpy cup by any standards. Since that time, Harars have tended toward flavor profiles with deeper hues; intense chocolate notes with stronger earthiness, and fruity aromatics lingering way in the background.
After many cuppings from many sources, it would seem that climate influences, perhaps the El Nino/La Nina years, have had a greater hand in determining the taste profile, since the dry-processed preparation seems improved if anything, and the quality in general is high.
That initial tea-like Harar was from the late '96 crop, while samples received in late '97 through this year, '99 emphasize pungency and chocolate/earthy notes. While brokers have promised berry notes, this fella can't find them.
Is this a bad thing? No, really. Coffee is a crop, and mastery of its botany or biochemistry hasn't occurred to the point where desired qualities appear in the cup with the wave of a chemists or geneticists magic wand ...thank God! And perhaps waiting for the wonderful qualities we cherished many cups ago makes the discovery of new tastes that much more special.
That said, I am very proud of our current stock of Harar. Cupped rigorously against 8 competing sources, we settled on a grade 4 Longberry offered by Erna Knutsen. Visually, it reminds me of that wonderful Harar in that processing is good, but color varies greatly in the green coffee, with an apparent large number of what are called "pales" in Ethiopian dry-processed coffees; under-ripe seeds. While one broker would scoff at the number of pales as a sign of inferiority (in fact, at last years SCAA in Denver, one scoffed me right out of his booth!) I honestly think they are responsible for increased aromatics and high notes in the cup. The proof is in the tasting. Roast the harar, pick out a few of the roasted seeds that are lighter and eat them! You wont find off tastes there, but lighter, fruitier notes, and a pleasant tang.
All About Coffee ...Not Really!
With hope and a bit of dread I march off to the SCAA in Philadelphia April 30 - May 3. This, the stomping ground for 8000 coffee professionals, from growers to brokers to roasters, is also the place for pandering, one-upmanship, pointless marketing of pointless new products, and bold-faced lying. Maybe I am grumpy, or just intimidated. As a small fry in a big pan, it is always awkward. I am too little to visit origins and hob-nob, so the SCAA is my big chance to have a good conversation with coffee growers and other roasters. But quality is not always at the guiding principle with coffee folks ...the question lurking behind many conversations is, "how big is your batch"; that is, your value in the trade is proportional to how big your business is. So chest-pounding and exagerations abound; I have been known to slip a few times too.
But there are other barriers too. I quickly find myself estranged from coffee merchandisers. Giftware annoys me. How many ways can you redesign the "commuter mug" until they become laughable (have you seen the ones with the grippy rubber fetish "money bumps" --the more bumps on the mug, the more money you pay).
Then there's all the sweet slushy coffee drink and flavoring folks. The logic of their pitch is; "increase sales now: train customers to love artificial flavorings and sugar: kill the specialty coffee trade."
Then, ironically, there are the big guys who really do "walk the walk" and have a sincere working relationship with coffee quality. Oddly, I find some are quite snobby toward the small roaster. They believe only they can secure the great coffees.
In fact, I would argue the opposite. In most cases, medium sized roasters are too cost-conscious to get great coffee, or too cynical to believe their customers can tell the difference between the mediocre and the great, or they can't get enough bags of a great coffee to satisfy their needs, so they settle for something more readily available.
As someone who buys 2-5 bags of particular coffees, small quantities meet my needs, and price premiums for great coffees don't phase me. (If you need 100 bags and its .20 more per lb., a lot of roasters will look for a cheaper coffee ...honest!)
Hooray for Colsuaves
It took me a while but I figured it out! A lineup of 8 Colombians past and present, a blind cupping to root out the best of the bland (I do not find Colombians to be inspiring). Among these cups are all types of premium Supremos from the famous growing regions: Huila, Popayan, Bucaramunga, Tetuan. (Actually, the Colombian Coffee Federation calls them "ecotopos", not regions, since within a region only smattering of particular plots has the conditions that typify the area). Going down the line, I find the typical clean cup profiles, some with a nip of fruity acidity, some with a balance of body, flavor and aromatics that are well-intended but rather dull.
Then come "the cup," like some divine hand had spiked the Colombian with a winey Kenya, a twist of ferment over luscious acidity and a deep brooding body. It's the kind of cup that makes you roll it back over your tongue, stand up straight and make a drooling guttural sound. I just couldn't believe it ...really, I couldn't. I waited until the bags appeared weeks later to recup it before I spilled the beans publicly. There had to be a mistake. There wasn't! So what was this coffee? Colombian Popayan exported under a particular "marca" of Colsuaves, an insider's secret I suppose, since he is known for quality and dealing only in "coffee on hand" --he doesn't do futures, and only offers coffee to US brokers when he has it in stock and ready to ship. In a regional market where US brokers can't deal with farmers (they're too small in Colombia -average farms produce 40-60 bags per year!) it is the exporter than determines quality mostly, and finding one like Colsuaves has made me rethink the possibilities of Colombian coffee.
This list is superceded by the web page list, since that is updated continuously!
Sweet Maria's Green Coffee Offerings on 4/15/99
***Central American*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Costa Rican Tarrazu Papagayo $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
Guat. Antigua -La Tacita Estate $5.80 $11.02 $25.23
Guat. Antigua -Santa Barbara $5.20 $9.88 $22.62
Guat. Organic-Atitlan $5.40 $10.26 $23.49
Guat.- Finca Dos Marias Estate $6.00 $11.40 $26.10
Mexican Organic Atoyac $5.65 $10.74 $24.58
Mexican HG Chiapas $4.25 $8.08 $18.49
Mexican Coatepec -Roma $3.90 $7.41 $16.97
Mexican Maragogype $5.40 $10.26 $23.49
Mex. San Pablo Tres Flechas $4.65 $8.84 $20.23
Mexican HG Organic Putla $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
Nic. Jinotega/Matagalpa $4.65 $8.84 $20.23
Nic. Matagalpa Gavilan Estate $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
Nicaraguan Organic Segovia $5.20 $9.88 $22.62
Panama Boquete Lerida Estate $5.10 $9.69 $22.19
Panama Hartmann "Songbird" $5.10 $9.69 $22.19
***South American*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Brazil Bourbon Santos 2/3s $3.50 $6.65 $15.23
Brazil Cerrado-Monte Carmelo $4.40 $8.36 $19.14
Brazil Minas 17/18 "Organic" $4.50 $8.55 $19.58
Col. Huila Supremo $4.30 $8.17 $18.71
Col. Popayan Supremo "Colsuaves" $4.60 $8.74 $20.01
Peru Org. Chanchamayo Florida $4.75 $9.03 $20.66
***African*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Ethiopian Ghimbi Gr5 $4.75 $9.03 $20.66
Ethiopian Harar Gr4 Longberry $5.70 $10.83 $24.80
Ethiopian Limmu Washed Gr2 $6.10 $11.59 $26.54
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Gr2 $6.45 $12.26 $28.06
Kenya AB -Gaturiri Farm '98 $7.80 $14.82 $33.93
Kenya AA -Mweiga Farm '98 $7.50 $14.25 $32.63
Kenya AA -Kiungu Farm '98 $7.80 $14.82 $33.93
Ugandan Bugisu AA $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Zambia AA Chisoba Estate $6.60 $12.54 $28.71
Zimbabwe AA Canterbury $6.00 $11.40 $26.10
Zimbabwe Peaberry + $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Yemen Mocca Rimy $6.90 $13.11 $30.02
***Indonesian*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Sulawesi Toraja $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Sumatra Batak Mandheling $5.35 $10.17 $23.27
Sumatra Golden Pwani $5.80 $11.02 $25.23
Sumatra Mandheling Gr1 DP $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Sumatra Aged Mandheling DP $6.40 $12.16 $27.84
Sumatra OrganicGayoMtn.Gr2 $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Timor Organic MaubesseGr1 $5.35 $10.17 $23.27
***Other*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Indian Monsooned Malabar $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Indian Mysore-Kents Varietal $5.40 $10.26 $23.49
French Chicory -Roasted $6.00 $11.40 $26.10
Kona -Eames Farm-Estate Grade $16.00 $30.40 $69.60
Maui Kaanapali Moka $7.40 $14.06 $32.19
Papua New Guinea Gumanch A $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Papua New Guinea Wahgi PB $5.70 $10.83 $24.80
SM's Espresso Monkey Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Sweet Maria's Fr.RoastBlend $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
***Decafs*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Colombian Excelso CO2 D $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Costa Rican HB Natural D $5.30 $10.07 $23.06
MexicanEsmeralda Natural D $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
PapuaNewGuinea Org.SWP D $6.40 $12.16 $27.84
Timor Organic SWP Decaf $6.40 $12.16 $27.84
Sweet Maria's Coffee Roastery
9 E. 2nd Ave. * Columbus Ohio 43201
ph/fx:614 294 1816 * orders:888.876 5917